NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Nearly 125 middle school and high school students from 17 Lowcountry schools were able to visit Joint Base Charleston Thursday morning.
The students were able to learn about different jobs in the aviation field at the base's first Tuskegee Airmen Career Day.
"This is what we're trying to show the young people, saying hey, this is what the Tuskegee Airmen did for us," said Air Force Reserve Pilot Lt. Col. Terry Troutman. "We're standing on the shoulders of the Tuskegee Airmen, and some of the greatness they did."
The event was based off an initiative from 2006 when Lt. Col. Troutman flew a historic flight as an aircraft commander flying a C-17 Globemaster III with nine Tuskegee Airmen in it. The aircraft bore the markings in their honor: "The Spirit of the Tuskegee Airmen."
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think it was going to take off like it did," Troutman said. "I was a young Captain, with a crazy idea, and it took off. It was great."
The Airmen were an important part of the U.S. victory against Germany in WWII.
They were the first African American servicemen to serve as military aviators in the armed forces.
"Because of what they accomplished, I'm basically standing on their shoulders," said James Hampton, a member of the Hiram Mann Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen in Walterboro. "Twenty years after that I retired from the Air Force as a Chief Master Sergeant. Without them having endured and accomplished what they accomplished, I might never have been able to do what I did."
"Those guys are considered heroes," Troutman said. "They were young college kids coming from the rural areas of our communities. They weren't much different from what you can find in the rural areas of Charleston."
From 1944-1945 the Tuskegee Airmen did their combat training in Walterboro.
Today there are 52 chapters all across the country working to keep their legacy alive.
The students traveled in different groups, eating lunch and then talking with members from ten different aviation career fields.
"To see what people go through every day and hear what they do, it's a really good benefit," said Berkeley High School Freshman Jalen Lloyd.
The kids were also able to get really interactive at the different stations. They were allowed to hold some replica firearms that are used, as well as try on an explosive ordinance disposal bomb suit which weighs 80 pounds.
Everett Smith, an eighth grader from Jerry Zucker Middle School, was able to try on the suit. He said it was one of the most impressive things he learned Thursday.
"[I can't believe] they're able to wear this suit and actually walk in it," he said.
Some members of the Air Force Reserves volunteered for the event immediately because of their own personal experiences.
"They can relate," said Air Force Reserve Pilot 1st Lt. Jordan Barnes. "They want to see someone close [in age] to them that is doing something that they could potentially do in the future. It's important for me to give back because this is how I got my interest. Going on these tours, these static tours, talking with individuals like myself. So I have to make sure to keep that pipeline flowing."
"It's an imperative time to plant the seed when they're trying to figure out who they are," Troutman said. "If we can put those seeds of success, of knowledge, into their minds at a young age, then maybe they can think [I can do this]."
Lt. Col. Troutman served at 1st Lt. Barnes mentor for years.
Barnes said he would not be where he is today without his help.
"He introduced me to [the Air Force Reserves]. He told me some stories, really peaked my interest. I kind of followed the same footsteps he did, listened to him. He's my mentor, so everything he said, I did. I stayed out of trouble, got a lot of flight time, met the right people, followed his tune and everything worked out thankfully."
Joint Base Charleston also hosts a Women's Aviation Career Day every year.
A spokesperson for the base said the popularity of that event is what helped in the consideration of Thursday's Tuskegee Airmen Career Day.